Imagine the scene. You wake in the early morning as the sun is rising. You can hear the gentle lap of water on the hull and birdsong floats by on the breeze. You make a cup of coffee, step onto your deck and breathe in the fresh air.
A houseboat offers an idyllic lifestyle, where nature is all around, there is deep sense of community, and you feel free of the trappings of modern life. And houseboat living doesn’t have to be difficult. You can still enjoy many of the comforts of a bricks-and-mortar house in your home on the water.
In our series of articles dedicated to living on a boat, we’ve looked at many aspects of this delightfully unorthodox lifestyle. We’ve tackled the legalities, pros and cons of living on a boat, and we’ve taken a closer look at the best boats to live on full time–everything from sailboats and houseboats to trawlers. In this article, let’s zero in on the houseboat in more detail, answering some of the questions we hear most frequently;
What are the Different Types of Houseboats I Can Live on?
Long gone are the days when houseboats were old vessels inhabited by free-spirited folk looking to be rid of everyday land-lubbing life. Today, there is a huge boom in the houseboat market, fueled by a desire from more and more people to find a simpler, more rewarding, and more relaxing way of life. Houseboat options are getting more creative, designer-led and spacious, with beautiful designs of both static and powered houseboats as luxurious as houses. In a previous article, we’ve looked closely at the types of houseboats, including:
- Cruising Houseboats: Powered houseboats are self-propelled residential vessels that come in many guises and make for a top choice of liveaboard. While some will be limited in the distance they can travel and be more reminiscent of static houseboats, others have plenty of cruising power and are ready for coastal adventures. With a squarer silhouette than a traditional motoryacht, powered houseboats can accommodate an impressive amount of living space for their length.
- Static and Pontoon Houseboats, and Floating Homes: Non-powered houseboats are a true home-on-the-water. A steel floating pontoon supports a mobile home type structure on the top, providing large amounts of living space, big windows, and all the amenities and home comforts you want. They can be towed from place to place, but are otherwise static in a residential community along rivers, lakes, sheltered bays, and inland waterways.
- Canal Boats and Barges: Common in Europe and the UK, canal boats, narrowboats, and barges ply the rivers and canals in large numbers. Long and slim enough to navigate narrow waterways and ancient low bridges, they offer lots of home comforts and can be purchased fairly inexpensively.
It’s of course also possible to live on your sailboat (see our guide to Living on a Sailboat, Is It Right for You?) or one of the new style of luxury liveaboard trawler boats. To see new and used liveaboard boats for sale, start your search on Rightboat.
What are the Advantages of Living on a Houseboat?
- A connection to nature: The houseboat lifestyle allows you to get close to nature, the seasons, and wildlife. It’s an outdoorsy existence with plenty of fresh air and amazing views.
- It’s cheaper than a house: While houseboat prices can vary hugely, finding a comfortable boat for far less than the cost of a house is a big appeal. Being rent or mortgage free is a big pro.
- Reduce your carbon footprint: Houseboats tend to have much lower carbon footprints than houses, especially if you have a static houseboat or don’t use the engine often.
- Plenty of space: Compared to living on a yacht, a houseboat offers a large amount of living space with the modern comforts of a house including fully fitted kitchens, spacious living areas, and double bedrooms.
- Live in a great location for a fraction of the cost: If you manage to secure a residential mooring in a city center location, you’ll typically be living in a highly sought-after area for considerably less than a house or apartment would cost.
- A flexible and adventure-filled lifestyle: Depending on the type of houseboat you buy, you can enjoy exploring new destinations and take your home with you on adventures.
- A close sense of community: Houseboat communities are friendly and tight-knit, and you’ll enjoy making new friendships and feeling safe in a residential marina.
- Learn new skills and keep fit: Regular maintenance on your boat will keep you fit and healthy, and you’ll learn new skills at every turn.
- Enjoy watersports: You can swim, kayak, or canoe, straight from your home on the water. Motorized houseboats will allow you to explore new areas and drop anchor for the weekend or longer as you set off to enjoy different watersports.
What are the Disadvantages of Living on a Houseboat?
- Good marinas have long waiting lists: With the increasing popularity of living on a houseboat, residential moorings are becoming harder to find, especially in sought-after areas.
- There is limited space: While there are some enormous houseboats on the market to rival the space in any medium-sized house, most houseboats are more modestly sized, so storage space will be limited. You’ll have to learn to live an uncluttered lifestyle and only keep what you really need.
- On-going maintenance: You’ll have to ensure you stay on top of maintenance and upkeep of your boat either by doing it yourself or hiring a skilled person. Everything from engine servicing to treating rust, to day-to-day tasks such as filling the water tank and emptying the toilet tank need to be considered.
- Boats depreciate, unlike houses: Unlike a shoreside house, the value of your boat will likely depreciate over time.
- Less personal space: Living with a partner and/or children on board is a wonderful bonding experience but doesn’t leave much space for alone time. You’ll have to learn to be respectful of each other’s space.
- Social perceptions: Some people may view living on a boat as eccentric or unusual although if you’re considering an alternative lifestyle you probably won’t care too much what others think!
What Does it Cost to Live on a Houseboat?
With rising house prices and general cost of living, especially in the world’s big cities, the idea of a more cost-effective lifestyle on the water is gaining popularity. In the UK for example, according to the Canal & River Trust, houseboat numbers have increased by 6 percent nationally since 2012, yet in London they have soared by 84 percent. So is living in a houseboat really that much cheaper than buying or living in a house?
The cost of living on a houseboat varies hugely depending on the type of houseboat you buy and where you moor it. You could buy a brand new two-story, two-bedroom motorized houseboat with spacious decks for around $250,000, or find a used pontoon houseboat for under $40,000. At the top end of the scale are houseboats that resemble superyachts and retail for $600,000-$800,000. In addition to the purchase price of the houseboat, other costs you’ll have to take into account include:
- Loan repayment fees: If you don’t pay for your houseboat in full, you’ll have a monthly loan to pay as part of your budget. These will vary depending on the purchase price.
- Liveaboard fees: These are usually calculated based on the boat’s length, and average between $400 and $700 per month, although they can be higher. Fees often include mooring fees, electricity, internet connection, water, laundry facilities, and garbage disposal.
- Insurance: The cost of houseboat insurance averages about $100 per month, but there are many different policies depending on the type of boat you have. See our guide to marine insurance to find out more.
- Maintenance: Approximate monthly costs for maintenance will vary from less than $100 to multiples of that, depending on the size, age and condition of your houseboat.
- Pump-out fees: The cost of pumping out the sewage and toilet waste twice a month is likely to cost between $50 and $100.
Houseboat Living FAQs
Can I get a mortgage to buy a houseboat?
Yes. There are specialist marine mortgage lenders who offer loans on boats of all kinds, including houseboats. Marine mortgages work in the same way as a traditional mortgage but are usually for much shorter-term loans (often up to 10 years) and usually require a larger deposit. For more information see our guide to marine mortgages and boat loans.
What is it like living on a houseboat in winter?
It’s a long-standing myth that houseboats are cold and damp in the winter. Modern houseboats—indeed most of those built since the 1980s—are well-equipped with double glazed windows and good insulation. Some boats have built-in heat sources, while those without can be efficiently heated with electric heaters. Condensation can be an issue on all kinds of boats, but ensuring good ventilation is vital. In short, it’s perfectly comfortable to live on a houseboat all year, and thousands of people do.
What are things to consider when living on a houseboat with young children?
There are obvious dangers when living on a houseboat with young children, the main concern being the constant proximity to water. Young children will need to be supervised at all times which can be stressful and time-consuming, but it also offers a unique and nature-filled childhood surrounded by adventure and fresh air. Space may also be an issue as children get older.
What considerations are there for living with a dog on a houseboat?
While your dog might find the whole idea of being on a boat a bit baffling and unsettling to begin with, most will soon grow accustomed to their new lifestyle. You’ll need to check with the marina where you’ll be living as to their policy on dogs (some may ask for full vaccination cards, for example). Even though most dogs can swim, it’s advisable to have them wear a doggy life jacket when on onboard.
Do you get seasick living on a houseboat?
It’s unlikely that you’ll feel sick living on a houseboat simply because they barely move. Houseboats are moored in highly protected areas or marinas, or on lakes, rivers, or canals where swells causing sea sickness is virtually non-existent. Of course, the best way to try out your sea legs is to rent a houseboat for a vacation and see how you and your family members get on.
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